Category: Travel


We’ve got no fucking idea! My choice of words might upset you, somehow I don’t care. I am aware of the harshness of the language, maybe even the inappropriateness of it. And yes you are welcome to take me to task about it, but only if and when you seriously engage with the following. The invisible children of Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda. The stolen generation of Australia. Children in the global sweatshop. The starving in famine-struck Somalia. The people of Kiribati. The people who work and live in the Mine, Guatemala City. The oil sand exploitation of Athabasca and similar areas. The oil fields of the Niger delta. Any of the active genocides that are taking place in the world. And don’t just read about the above on the internet, run the search on Google Images with safe search off, the latter is a cop-out; even better, visit one or two of the places if you can.

But you don’t need to travel that far and “exotic” to see, hear and experience how really clueless and irrelevant we have become. Take a drive through the far flung reaches of the North-West and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. Visit city centres and prominent harbours. Talk to the youth in South Africa and then to a few drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless, jobless and oppressed. Spend a day at an animal shelter or at any underground dog-fighting ring. Walk a day next to a workhorse in Khayelitsha. Open your eyes and ears to your own comfort and privilege. Open your eyes and ears to the very real suffering in the world. Open your eyes and ears to the call of Jesus. Really step out of your comfort zone for a moment and experience.

And whilst at it, remember the words of Jesus, and ponder it for a little while.

“Then he spoke: You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding.  You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning. “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – skip like a lamb, if you like! – for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this. Give Away Your Life But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get. And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it. “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests – look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.” (Luke 6:20-26)

And once you have done that, then, but only then, you are welcome to challenge me on my choice of words at the beginning of this reflection.

What a meeting! Arriving at the airport well in advance of my travelling fellows, getting the SARS export/import form stamped and grabbing the first few places in the check in queue for the group, I get ready to wait. The third person to arrive is an Egyptian and we soon strike up a conversation. This was prompted by me sharing information about the free wrapping service offered by EgyptAir just around the corner. He is amazed, this he tells me, does not happens in Egypt, there you pay for getting your bag wrapped.

At the first the conversation whirls around the relevant topics of our worlds, what we do, where we live, the differences between South Africa and Egypt and his take on the revolution in Egypt, surprising and thought provoking, so much different to what I experienced from the comfort of my sitting room passively partaking in it.

During the conversation, on and off as members of my travelling group arrives, he gets a name, Ramy Samir. He is a Protestant, the son of a Coptic Christian and married to a Catholic believer, an ecumenical household to say the very least. Just as we say good bye, for now, Ramy invites me to contact him when I am in Cairo on Good Friday with the promise to take me to church with his family. What a priviledge!

It is day 1, wait, it is really the start of day 2 of my journey to Taize. It is 03:59 in the morning, somewhere west of Mecca and a fair bit north of Khartoum, some 40000 feet above terra firma (because it sounds much more impressive than 12000 meters) with daybreak imminent. What an adventure!

 

Like all journeys, this one started bitter-sweet. With the sadness of saying good bye to loved one whilst at the same time bubbling with the anticipation of new experiences. South Africa definitely gave a huge step in the right direction with the Gautrain project. A short drive, 2 kilometers to be precise, to the bus line got me on my way. An easy commute to Sandton station and, from there, arriving at OR Tambo with a swipe of card, effortless.

 

You can only imagine, from here the excitement only grew with every small step closer to the plane, the arriving of travelling fellows in ones and twos, the conversing with strangers in the queue, the opening of the check-in counter, a meal shared, walking through passport control, boarding and then, finally, into the airplane and lifting off.

 

Flying in an older plane, with Egyptair, is a bit of a throwback and even a bit of a disappointment; centralized tv screens, limited music channels and a choice of drinks limited to juice and softdrinks. This prompted the first critical reflection of the trip. Why disappointed with the lack of personal entertainment and a glut of choice? Surely it’s not the result of marketing ad nauseam telling me that it is my right as a consumer to demand the best, to demand more while partaking in an activity that is only reserved for the very elite in the world.

 

This prompted me to take a second look at the environment of the flight, and what a surprise! The staff are friendly, the newspapers and cabin announcements in Arabic, space sufficient and the conversation on the plane flowing. The first opportunity offered to deconstruct a little bit of the consumer ideology that is so pervasive throughout our daily lives. The lack of choice liberating, allowing me to let go and enjoy the moment, not worrying about which movie to watch, how to fill my already image and sound fatigued mind with more flickering lights and tripping notes.

 

My sincere hope for the trip is that an opening of the mind, the broadening of horizons and stilling of the soul will be the order of day.

This is it. 2 more assignments to complete, get it done already, one other errand to run, a day and a half’s playing with my son and I am on my way. The bags are packed, the paperwork in order and the leave application signed. I’m off on a hop, skip and jump through Europe.

The adventure starts on Thursday (31 March) when Emse and Janno will drop me at Monte Casino to catch the Gautrain bus. Instead of a two hour ordeal with Johannesburg traffic they are out and about in four quick kilometres. I’m catching the evening flight with EgyptAir to Cairo and from there to Geneva the next morning.

What’s the trip all about? The short answer is: experience. The trip of two halves is planned around experiencing different sights and sounds, smells and tastes, different ways of thinking and talking and a lot more. For the first part of the tour I am joined with 14 fellow travellers on the way to Taize, a retreat community in North-western France. After spending two days in Geneva we will head to this diverse community for seven days. We will take part in the daily rhythm of those who seek to bring about God’s kingdom in a very tangible way.

After this thought-provoking experience the group will split into smaller groups. The majority are slowly making their way back to Geneva from where they fly back to South Africa. I am doing things slightly different. Bearing a backpack and equipped with a few things to capture experiences I am heading out to Paris (2 days), Amsterdam (2 days), Rome (4 days), Athens (3 days) and Cairo (3 days) before I head back home.

During this whirlwind I will try to see and hear, taste and experience as many religious, cultural, and philosophical points of interest as possible. I am especially excited about my hosts. I am staying with native people in every city who kindly offered their couches for travellers seeking to experience more than just the tourism beat.

Now you know. This is what I will be up to during the month of April. If you are interested in my journey, please tune into this blog. I will try to post a blog every day of my trip, at least as much as internet access allows me. I might also send the odd tweet (follow me on @hannol) but rather than be connected to my phone I will be connecting to a world much different than my own. This blog entry will be duplicated at weltewoorde.wordpress.com.

Join me, even if it is from behind a computer! You are most welcome.

 

As a last thought. This journey, as the bigger journey of life, will be marked by a seeking and enjoying of mystery; barefoot!